Category Archives: Writing

Fire it Up: The Key to Getting Words on the Page

Writing slumps can happen for any number of reasons. Maybe you’re down in the dumps, or maybe life’s just been throwing so much at you that it’s more important to bask in the glow of it (or process it) than even try to write it down. Being newly married, I’m not going to be too hard on myself for letting my writing sit by the wayside for a while. But as I sort the pieces of my new life and enjoy the process, I see that writing has a place here.

Through grade school and beyond I was a letter writer, often on the lookout for pen-pals to send my streams of inexhaustible thoughts. I was also a happy reader, allowed by homeschooling to explore my interests to my heart’s desire through the interlibrary loan system. College dimmed both of these healthy habits, surrounding me constantly with people so I had no need to write letters for social interaction, and requiring reading that was far from interesting or fun.

I fell out of my habit of digesting and creating words and I’m still working to undo what college did there. And slowly, I’m beginning to see that the missing ingredient is enthusiasm. Unquashed enthusiasm drives thirst for knowledge and the desire to share what one’s found with others. It also makes one want to get up in the morning! What’s the trick for finding your old enthusiasm when it’s been lost for years under bills and piles of assignments and responsibilities?

Just watch yourself. I’ll bet there are still some things that get you fired up.

Pay attention to what takes you out of your everyday going-about-your-business self and throws you for a loop of surprise, or joy, or even anger. Notice what gets you riled up, for good or for bad, and start writing about it!

Catch that spark and make it glow.

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Write a Letter

To an old friend:

Remember how often we’d write to each other, pen-pal? Your letters stamped from exotic places, arriving in the mailbox on sunny mornings. I would trot down the driveway to check the mail, sometimes disappointed with impersonal printed business, sometimes cheered with a wrapped message that promised to be a delight to read.

Remember how easily the words came in those days, before there was such thing as a word count, a “good story”, structure, and grammar? Pooh. In those days there were books. In those days we told each other true stories, and wide-eyed we’d read them like the most gripping young-adult novel, except- these were real, written just for us, for our eyes only.

We wrote to each other. We wrote freely, as we were moved to. Unsupervised, unrequired writing, pure joy. Before I knew that “it’s” isn’t possessive, and before I knew what paragraphs are good for. It didn’t matter. I learned, and my letters were plenty readable.

For years I wrote to you. You wrote to me. Preferring paper and pen to face-to-face talk, I would wander the hillside like Frederick the mouse, gathering colors and sounds, images of plants in the sunshine. I would bring them back, in my mind, my camera, my words. Forest air in my lungs, forest dirt on my boots, blackberry scratches on my knees, sweat on my forehead. Alone, I would gather words for my next letter, and when pen met paper I would tell you stories of the places I’d been.

Write back soon!

Love,
Your Pen-Pal

Jazz Up Your Writing with a New Font

Feel like your writing is getting a bit stale? Writing in a new font is a sure way to freshen up your writing and get those creative juices flowing. A font itself can be a story – mysterious and simpletall and elegant,  hastily scrawled,distant and inhuman. Any reader who sees your font will get a sense of your tale even before they read a word.

If you have a story you want to tell and are having some trouble, go font-shopping! Find the font that tells your story for you and enjoy typing out the words with your newfound paintbrush. Or maybe you’ve no story in mind, and the font itself will inspire a new beginning. Typing with a fresh font is downright fun.

There are multiple places to find free fonts online, but the best I’ve found has to be Google Fonts. Go enjoy the elegant interface, pick up a few new brushes, and get typing!

Harvesting Stories

Put your pen to the paper, right now, and think up a story. Use your imagination. Shouldn’t this be easy for a storyteller like you?

Maybe, but only if you know how to go about it. There’s a common misconception that storytellers invent their stories, when in reality we are only translators. We take in and observe the details of life—the sights, sounds, smells, feelings, memories, reactions, expressions, and connections—and write from experience. Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are nearly unrecognizable compared with our own experience, but deep down, in thought or in theme, even our fiction comes from the heart.

Stories are harvested more than created, like a fruit salad. The ingredients may come from many different places, but they’re certainly not conjured up out of nothing. If you find yourself unable to “think up” a story (or unable to bring a fruit salad into existence by sheer willpower), that doesn’t mean you’re out of creativity! It means you need ingredients for your salad. Focus on what you have: memory. And write what’s important to you.

For more ideas about writing from your experience, check out this great little article by Richard on CreateSpace. But before you go, take a minute and put yourself back into a memory. Harvest the details, and write!

Writing Just for Fun

If you don’t feel a thrill tingle through you when you see a blank page, try again.

“Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else.” -C.S. Lewis

Think of the possibilities a blank page holds. Forget about word counts, forget about readers, and write for pure joy.

Repeat.

Title Tricks for Your Story

Your title is important. It’s the first words a potential reader sees, and your first chance to draw them into your story. How does a writer go about finding the right title for their story?

Titles Don’t Come First!

In my experience, writing a story for a title just doesn’t turn out well. It’s too constraining. Usually a title is made for a story, not the other way around. I’ve written multiple stories now that remain title-less even after the plot is full fledged, and are just waiting for some title TLC.

Titles Take Thought

Sometimes they come easy, but with longer novel-length stories, often they don’t. It helps to really know what your story is about. (If you’re like me and prefer to write off-the-cuff, sometimes you don’t know what your story is about. Someone once asked what the NaNoWriMo novel I’d written was about, and I said, “I don’t know, I haven’t read it!”) Titles take thought, study, critique, and revision. When something catches, you’ll know it.

Titles Should:

  • Reflect the essence of your story
  • Have meaning for the reader before they read your story. If your book is fantasy, you may be tempted to write fantasy words into the title, but my advice is to keep this to a minimum. The title should communicate something about your story to potential readers who have no knowledge of your story whatsoever, thus enticing them to pick your book off the shelf.
  • NOT give away too much. They’re just a glance at the worm on the hook. The first paragraph should get the bite, and the first chapter reel them in.

What are your tricks for titles? Writers don’t get much chance to practice these. A great way to learn is to pay attention to your favorite stories, study the titles, and see what works for your tastes.

Only One Story

I’ve long been a proponent of cranking out words and upping your word count. That’s what writers do, right? Keep writing, and you’re bound to come up with something good among all those keystrokes.

This approach definitely works sometimes and for some writers, but there are other approaches too, and these can be refreshing. I was talking with a writer friend recently who reminded me that some writers have a limited number of stories inside them. Indeed, many authors like Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame only published one book, and found success.

It was a relief to me to consider the idea that a writer has a limited number of stories to tell. After my first NaNoWriMo success, I’ve been disappointed with my other attempts partly because I see myself telling the same story all over again. But perhaps this isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s because that one story is my story. Maybe it’s my only story. And that’s all right.

Lesson of the day: don’t force it. Sometimes, forcing a story or word count is helpful, but in the end, writing has to feel natural to read natural. You don’t need to write a billion words to be a successful writer, unless that’s your thing. Only one story told well, in a way that pleases you, is enough.